This is the final installment of a walkabout with Chef René Redzepi (see part one and part two). We began the afternoon on the West Side of Manhattan and meandered through SoHo to the East Village and then headed southerly to wd~50, Wylie Dufresne's fiercely independent restaurant. We began at 2:17pm and wrapped up at 3:45pm. Rare among chefs I've Eaterrogated, Redzepi asked as many questions as he answered and seemed to truly interrogate his environment, from bitter melons to coffee cups. He has what Buddhists call shoshin, beginner's mind. It occurred to me that that openness might be what animates the foraging that has become his, albeit simplistic, cipher.
[Having left Russ and Daughters, we continue our journey to wd~50, so Redzepi can deliver a copy of his book, Noma, to Wylie Dufresne.]
I'm also very driven by actually feeling that you are constantly learning. That you are constantly having some sort of challenge to yourself. That really fuels me and drives me and makes me satisfied.
Some people, I'm sure, would cast you as unambitious because you don't want to roll out a Noma franchise. You seem happy with your fiefdom. But you seem to constantly challenge yourself and that seems pretty ambitious.
To have an interesting career, in learning, to have an interesting restaurant where you're pushing cuisine and how to eat. And on a personal level, you just keep learning.
[A group of schoolchildren cross our path, heading back to P.S. 20]
It's similar to how Ferran Adria stopped Elbulli?
elboooyEEEEE!!! [Said in the style of Flavor Flav.]
?when he could have kept going for years.
[A pit bull walks our way, attached to a slender woman. Redzepi visibly stiffens and walks on the far side of me.]
I'm just going to walk on this side. I was attacked by two dogs as a kid, dogs that looked like that. It's crazy. This young girl, if that dog went after one of the small kids, she couldn't do anything.
[The dog passes, uninterested in us or our conversation. The woman smiles at Redzepi.]
I have the greatest respect for [closing elBulli]. Of course that is an extreme example. He finishes at the top, without a doubt. There was just a press release out actually that he is going to be sponsored for four years by [telecom giant] Telefonica. They will sponsor his restaurant for FOUR YEARS. FOUR YEARS. So he can run it as whatever he feels like. This is a craaazy notion.
It's a completely new model for sponsorships for chefs.
Well you know, of course they want to be in this whole field of innovations and modern technology.
Would you ever get sponsored like that? Who would you want to sponsor you, Coca Cola?
[Laughter] No, man. These big companies that are poisoning planet Earth? No thank you. I grew up with a Muslim immigrant Dad that was a cab driver and a mother who was a cleaning lady. It's very easy when you don't feel you are missing anything because you didn't grow up with a lot of stuff and you're not searching for a lot. At least I'm not.
Do you think it also has to do with living in Denmark?
I think so as well, of course. As a society, it is not as driven, perhaps as here, toward constant fame and fortune. That's your royalty here: the more famous, the more rich, the more respect, somehow it seems.
Well, it's true: I can't think of an American chef who has closed up shop à la manière Ferran.
Where we are going now for me [to wd~50] is a very unusual New York chef for me. Wylie gets criticism for it, but he works in his own little world, trying to push it. You might say, from the outside, New York is the cultural capital of the whatever. Then you have one guy out of only a few in the world who is really pushing boundaries and inventing things, and he's just struggling to survive. But he keeps doing it. He sticks to it. This is what he wants to do. He's unusual. I love going there.
I've never been.
You have to go. But it is crazy. He's a crazy guy. A lot of people say that's so different from what you're doing. But just because I cook the way I cook, doesn't mean I don't enjoy other people's cooking.
Well, it's that fire you share.
[At this point, we've arrived at wd~50. Not yet open for service, a waitress folds napkins inside.]
Exactly. Okay, if it's all right with you, I'm going to go into the kitchen and say hi to the guys.